Etymology & Historical Origin of the Baby Name Helga
Helga developed as the feminine equivalent of Helgi, an Old Norse masculine name from “heilagr” meaning “blessed, holy” or “the sacred one”. Helgi is a name borne from ancient Norse mythology in the form of a couple different heroes. Helgi Hjörvarðsson was the son of a Norwegian king, Hjörvarðr, and his fourth wife Sigrlinn, considered the most beautiful woman in all of Scandinavia. Because she was so lovely, various kings of the land had designs on the girl, but her father refused to betroth her to the many suitors. Another king attempted to take Sigrlinn by force after killing her father (king Sváfnir), but Hjörvarðr was able to rescue her from hiding and return with her to his own kingdom. Their son was born without a name. When this boy grew to be a man, he spotted the most beautiful Valkyrie named Sváfa riding her horse (in Norse mythology, the Valkyries were horseback handmaids of Odin who escorted the slain heroes to Valhalla). It was Sváfa who gave the young man the gift of a name; she called him Helgi (the sacred one). She also told Helgi where to find a magical sword to assist him in battle, as he intended to avenge his grandfather, king Sváfnir (his mother’s father) who had been killed by one of his mother’s former suitors. Helgi was successful in this quest and became renowned in the land. In honor of his heroic feats, Helgi was granted Sváfa’s hand in marriage by her father. As the story progresses, Helgi is killed in battle by the son of the king he had killed earlier (in Norse mythology, heroic men were always avenging the slaying of some family member). As Helgi lay dying on the battleground, he sent a messenger for Sváfa so that he could say his final good-byes to his true love. The end? Not quite. Helgi and Sváfa would be reborn as another hero (Helgi Hundingsbane) and another Valkyrie (Sigrún) so the saga continues… Helgi Hundingsbane avenged his father by slaying the Saxon king Hunding (hence his name Hunding’s bane). Impressed by his brave feats, a beautiful Valkyrie named Sigrún fell in love with Helgi and he with her. Unfortunately Sigrún had been betrothed to another man (Hothbrodd) so Helgi does what any good Norseman would do: he instigates an all-out war against his would-be rival and all of Sigrún’s family (for arranging the undesirable marriage in the first place). Helgi was victorious in battle; all of his opponents die. Only one family member survived, Sigrún’s brother Dagr, who must immediately pledge allegiance to Helgi. Helgi and Sigrún are free to marry now and they produce several sons. Happily ever after? Not quite. Remember, this is Norse mythology and someone is always avenging someone else. This time it’s Dagr who wants to kill Helgi (to avenge his own father). Odin, the Norse grand-poobah of all gods, lends Dagr a sword for the dirty deed and Helgi is at once slain. Grief-stricken Sigrún curses her brother for killing her beloved husband; Dagr is forced to flee into the woods where he lives off the flesh of dead, rotting animals for the rest of his life. In the meantime, Helgi retires in comfort to Vahalla (where all the slain heroes are sent after death in battle). Back on earth, Sigrún builds a burial mound in his honor where the two passionately rendezvous for one last time. So, in conclusion, this is where the name Helga comes from; it’s simply the female version of Helgi. Ancient and historic, the name has been primarily restricted to Nordic and German-speaking nations. Although Helga no longer shows up on the 21st century popularity charts of Sweden, Denmark or Norway, she is still in circulation in Iceland and the Faroe Islands.